African Scenes


Thick potent creamy dark powerful Ethiopian Coffee. Bustling African vista absorbed from several floors up. Rust stained roofs and a rooftop basketball court. Men wielding pickaxes and digging a trench. Water oozing through the freshly dug dirt. Garbage. Goats. Dust. Bananas. Crowds of people waiting for taxies in their various blue and white forms. Three wheeled taxis, contract car taxies, public van taxies, and large buses. Street stalls and goats. Donkeys packed with large white bags sauntering slowly behind a young man. Ethiopia. Africa.
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Bumping along a rocky alleyway in a small buggy pulled by a very hungry looking horse I am riding towards my first feast in Africa. I snap some pictures, but soon a group of Ethiopian men are yelling and gesturing at me and I put my camera away. Our destination is a small NGO nursery and kindergarten run by some Baha’is. Everyone stops to watch as pass, the ferenges in the cart.
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Green straw litters the concrete floor. The smoke of freshly roasted coffee wafts through the air. We sit and wait while outside the coffee beans are crushed. This is typical Ethiopian coffee tradition. Incense smokes furiously in a small green bowl and the room quickly fills with smoke. The sweet burnt smell reaches my nostrils.
* * *
Amidst a cloud of smoke a woman pours coffee from a beautiful ebony clay pot into small cups. Surrounding her is the green straw. I am handed a brimming cup of dark brown coffee on a small saucer, I decline the offer of sugar. Carefully, I sip the coffee in order not to spill. I am thankful that I declined the sugar as there is already just as much sugar as coffee. It is very sweet. Sugar is default in all coffee and tea here and you have to be quick to avoid it, I am not always quick enough. This is the first time that I have had coffee with sugar and it is so sweet that I’m tempted to ask if I could have some coffee to go with my sugar. The priority addition to my non-existent Amharic vocabulary is ‘no sugar’.
The toilets are a new experience. There is a concrete slab enclosed with rusted metal siding. Inside are six toilets situated around the outside of the enclosure with no dividers between them. When I say toilet I mean two concrete blogs with a hole between them. I feel as though I have left Addis and traveled to some remote village, yet I am still in the heart of the city no more than thirty minutes away from a five star hotel.
* * *
The feast is drawing to a close; I am drifting off due to the effects sugar coffee when suddenly the room is filled with vibrant song. The song is in Amharic but I recognize various Arabic phrases and names. The song is full of life and everyone is beaming with joy as they sing their hearts out all the while rhythmically clapping in time. Just as soon as the first song is finished another is started by several junior youth in the corner. Even though I cannot understand most of the words it is so full of life and uplifting, I clap along. Song after song they sing and laugh. The classroom is so full of love, and there is no empty space. I recognize Red Grammar in English and join in singing ‘come and join us come and join us in our quest for unity’. Soon a large platter of a sort of sourdough bannock is passed around along with several plates of roasted barley and peanuts. I feel at home, and I know that wherever I go in the world I will always be able to feel at home within the Baha’i community. I join in singing ‘we are the people of Baha’.
Life in Addis.
Last week Kyle Jasmin and I were sitting in the staff room at school when we looked out to see Toby drinking straight out of the hose. When he saw us gaping in horror at him he laughed and began imitating Red Grammar singing ‘come and join me come and join me’. Kyle quickly piped in with ‘in your quest for Cholera’.  ‘That’s definitely going on my blog’ said Jasmin.
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Yesterday for the first time I was a little worried about my safety. We were just climbing into a taxi when we were surrounded by men yelling at the driver. We climbed in the back and locked the doors while the driver argued with them in Amharic. Finally he ended up paying them some money before they let him drive away. He said that they saw our colour and said that we would overpay. They were demanding that he give them the extra money.
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Yesterday we walked into a drugstore and were immediately greeted by a young woman who without prompting informed us that they had hand sanitizer. “I know you people like that stuff”.
I’m becoming a little tired of being ‘you people’ and being hassled and stared at wherever I go.
Tonight Kyle and I walked down the street not far from our apartment where I bought half a kilo of bananas, half a kilo of mangos, a pineapple, several bunches of garlic, two bags of roasted barley, and several carrots for a grand total of 44 birr, $3.7 US. Later I felt like maybe I was beginning to fit in with a backpack full of food, some bags of food in one hand, and carrying 12 liters of bottled water on my shoulder with the other.
The weekend is over and it is time to go back to work.